Viewing one post | View all recent posts
14 Principles for Living Well
WHAT: Personal | WHEN: October 13, 2008
|A while back I photographed Mike Sullivan and his family, and recently he wrote a set of principles to live by for his kids. I thought Mike's insights and advice were fantastic, and what an amazing gift to give to your kids. When I told Mike I thought a lot more people than just his kids could benefit from this (including myself) and asked him if I could share this gift on the blog, he graciously agreed. Here it is. Enjoy!
14 Principles for Living Well By Mike Sullivan
For Regan and Jack
Ive taken a lump or two in my life. Just about anybody who has been fortunate enough to live past the age of 25 has had his or her share of ups and downs. But it seems to me that the lessons of life dont register equally upon all of us. Some people seem to walk into the same messes over and over again, never gaining any insight about how life works. They keep dating the wrong people or spending their way into financial trouble or losing one job after another all without doing the necessary personal work to correct their personal life course. And maybe thats the rub: It is work. It may even be the hardest kind of work. Looking in the mirror and acknowledging blind spots is hard on our egos. Its far easier to place blame outside ourselves, play the victim and accept help from the rescuers of the world.
While I certainly dont hold myself up as the model for getting it right, I have made it a personal habit to reflect on how I show up in the world. As Ive contemplated winning and losing strategies for life and evaluated my own approaches against them I have come up
with a list of 14 principles I think are worth sharing. Im not sure they are as meaningful if you havent made a few mistakes of your own and learned some important lessons the hard way. But I think they may be helpful nonetheless.
Parents have an innate desire to give their children more than they had. And it is in response to that call that I share this thinking with you both. I had the benefit of two great parents to guide me as I grew up, but I never had a set of guiding principles before me like the ones Im giving to you. They are yours to do with as you please, of course. I offer them simply as suggestions based on 44 years of living and learning. I, too, have a long way yet to go, God willing. But these are things I believe today. And, importantly, these are things I believe will help you as you live your own lives and chart your own courses.
Principle #1 Dont Date Jerks and, God Forbid, Dont Marry One!
But love is blind and lovers cannot see - From Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice
Indeed, love is really blind. And sometimes plain stupid. You wont fully appreciate this until you watch one of your friends fall in love with a loser. Its nearly impossible to tell when youre in love with a loser yourself. The mirror just wont give up that reflection until it becomes terribly obvious. Not until it becomes so painful, so intolerable that there is no alternative but to see it.
Be careful with your heart. Dont give it to just anyone. Check the values of those you date. Know their family. Listen to your own family and friends when they tell you their concerns. In the end love is your own choice (and it is a choice) to make, but make that choice wisely. It has been said that marriage determines 90 percent of happiness in life and I think thats true.
Ive had a failed marriage, and I have been blessed with the contrast of your mother. Believe me, it would have been far easier had my eyes been open the first time around. I learned from the mistake, but it was a mistake. A very painful one. And an avoidable one. So be careful and be choosey. You are certainly worth it. And when you do decide to get married, make sure your values are really alignedvalues related to money, raising a family, and faith are all critically important for a successful marriage. Dont overlook them hoping for change.
Principle #2 You Can Never Call Too Many Good People Your Friends
Life is about relationships. It all comes down to that. People who understand this like to say that when you are drawing your final breath it wont be fame or fortune that comforts you, it will be your friend. Theres a great book called, Chasing Daylight How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene OKelly that describes this far better than I can here. Its about a man who lost sight of how important relationships are as he climbed the corporate ladder. He only caught sight of their importance again when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. I think you should read that book one day.
But friends arent only important in your final days, of course. Friends provide the texture for our lives. Good ones enrich our souls and make our own lives much more colorful and interesting. A life shared is a life worth living. Good friends can teach us about ourselves if we are willing students. Spend time with your friends.
But be very discriminating when choosing your friends. Not everyone is worthy of your time and attention. Your friendship is a precious gift and should be treated like one. Connect only with those people who truly are capable of reciprocating your friendship. Its wonderful and important to have friendships with people who arent like you and may even have completely different sets of values. But its never in your interest to compromise on the basic issues of honesty, integrity, trust, and decency.
Above all else, judge your friendships based on character and steer far away from those who dont measure up. You dont need the trouble they will bring your way. This is not only critically important when you are young, its important your whole life long. There will always be people who just dont have your best interests in mind. They take energy and pull you off course. Seek quality in your friendships and you will be rewarded with a brilliant tapestry of relationships that will support and reward you your whole life.
Principle #3 Give to Get
So many people simply havent figured this one out. Its a world-class secret and it will unlock all kinds of potential in your relationshipspersonal or otherwise. If you can learn to give without considering what you will get in return you will be blessed with abundance.
So much of human exchange is based on what we can get for ourselves. If you can turn that idea around and become a giver as opposed to a taker you will be amazed at what life hands you in return. Its far more fulfilling on a personal level to live this way. And I can assure you from personal experience that good people are always there in time of real need for those who give of themselves selflessly.
This takes practice, because we humans simply arent born this way. We are all programmed to satisfy our own needs first and foremost. Challenge yourself to rise above this natural disposition and you will always be better off for it. You both have a wonderful example of a real giver in your livesyour very own Mom.
Principle #4 Never Live Beyond Your Means
You dont know stress until you are drowning in debt. Credit is the bane of personal financial responsibility. Only buy what you can afford and buy it with cash as a rule. Save your money and make wise decisions.
Today, the country is in a huge financial crisis because so many Americans have failed to follow this simple advice. And it really is simple. Its not as fun as the short-term pleasure we get from buying something new, but the misery of financial failure inflicts incredible personal suffering. Dont do this to yourself. Ever. Spend time learning about money and how to use it intelligently. And NEVER marry somebody who doesnt share your belief in this Principle (see Principle #1).
If you slip up and find yourself in debt, do the right thing to make it a short-term problem. Get another job and cut your expenses. Face reality head on and deal with it. Thats what character is all about. But the best practice is avoidance when it comes to debt and living beyond your means.
Principle #5 Be a Lifelong Learner
Learning isnt just for school. In fact, school covers a very narrow range of subjects in the grand scheme of things. Expand your horizons by continuing to read and try on new ideas and concepts. Keep your minds open.
Most people give themselves a lot of credit for having an open mind, but few really do. Did you know that the average person hits a learning plateau at age of 25? Once people complete their formal education and begin their careers they stop reaching out and trying on new ideas. They stop learning about life and the world around them. Sadly, most people shut the door on learning about themselves and how they can improve the way they show up in the world. Isnt it sad to think that most people are as intelligent about the world and themselves as they will ever be by the age 25? Youll really understand this when youre 40. Always look for opportunities to stretch yourself and keep expanding your mind throughout your life. Your life will be far richer for it.
Principle #6 Be Self-Reliant
Everybody needs a hand sometimes, but the best life strategy is self-reliance. You become self-reliant by starting with an attitude that promotes personal responsibility. Remember David Emeralds book, The Power of TED and the Dreaded Drama Triangle? Never be the Victim in that scenario. The Challenger, Creator and Coach are the positions you want to occupy. They are self-reliant and take positive action toward personal goals.
The best place to start on the journey to self-reliance is your education. You guys both do a great job in school and I know that will continue. Its important for creating self-reliance, and so is personal financial management. Get your education and save your money. Nothing helps keep you self-reliant like a good education backed up by a strong bank account.
Principle #7 Take Responsibility
As a rule people tend to take too much personal credit for their success in life and too little responsibility for their failures. Shifting blame and skirting responsibility for mistakes and failures has become a favorite American pastime. It seems as though it is the rare individual who will stand up and take responsibility when things dont work out. And those rare people are distinguished by their personal character. While it can be painful to take responsibility for mistakes and failures, people ultimately respect those who do so. And, even more importantly, those people can respect themselves. Take responsibility for the things you do in life, and learn how to make a sincere apology when you mess something up. You cant go wrong with this approach.
Principle #8 Cultivate Outside Interests
I feel sorry for people who dont have outside interests. I really do. Whether its writing a book, fishing, volunteer work, or riding motorcycles, having outside interests is extremely important for maintaining mental balance.
Youll understand more about how important balance is when you enter the working world. Lets just say that living life without outside interests is like going to school all day and doing homework all night and having nothing at all to do on the weekends. Life can become a grind if you dont have outside interestsno matter how much you love your job. Outside interests help you build new skills, blow off steam, and meet people youd otherwise never know and go places youd otherwise never go, just to name a few important benefits.
Principle #9 Figure Out How to Handle Stress and Anxiety
One of the few certain things in this world is uncertainty. You can count on life to throw curve balls your way no matter how carefully you plan or how hard you work. Life is just way. And its that way for all of us, not just you. Uncertainty and unexpected events can produce a lot of stress and anxiety. Sometimes people react to stress in unhealthy ways. They might respond to stress and anxiety by engaging in destructive compulsive behaviors like drinking too much, taking drugs or acting out in other reckless ways. Were all imperfect and we are all vulnerable in this respect. The best thing you can do for yourself is figure out how to relive your stress in a healthy way. It may be a good workout regimen, a meditation practice, or a hobby or sport, or all of the above. It will take a little work to figure out what helps you relax, but its important for your mental health and peace of mind.
Principle #10 Get Help When You Need It
There is no shame in having problems. Human beings are imperfect and we have problems sometimes. Some people are just more inclined to share their problems while others prefer to hide them. There is no wrong or right here. But its too bad when people struggle privately and dont seek help. They suffer needlessly.
There are lots of reasons people dont get the help they need. Sometimes they feel embarrassed. Sometimes they are in denial, which is an extraordinarily powerful state of mind and very difficult to overcome. And sometimes they just dont want to do the personal work necessary to overcome their problems. But in the end, it is always best to face your problems head-on and deal with them.
We live in enlightened times when it comes to personal issues and problems. There are a lot of qualified professionals who can help people sort through complex personal issues. Long-term suffering is just not necessary. Life is better when you face your problems and resolve them.
Principle #11 Do Something You Love
Most Americans dont like their jobs. Thats a real shame, because we spend so many of our waking weekly hours working. I personally cant imagine toiling away at something I didnt truly enjoy. Does that mean I always have enjoyed my job? Absolutely not. I really disliked my first job at Tracy-Locke, and I can tell you that none of the restaurant jobs I had as a kid were much fun. But I always knew they were a means to an endan end that I would (and do) enjoy.
Think about what you might like to do and investigate that. Envision what your life would be like doing that. Talk to people who do it and see what they have to say. In short, do what so many people fail to dodo your homework! When you figure out what you want to do, then give it your all. Create a personal vision to get there, and then get there. And if you dont like it when you get there, have the courage to start the process all over again and find something you do love. If you love what you do, you will be very good at it. Loving what you do is important for a fulfilling life.
Principle #12 Think Positive
I was fortunate to attend a talk given by futurist Watts Wacker where he said, The way you organize your view of the future has a lot to do with what happens in it. I was struck by the statement because Ive personally found that to be absolutely true in my life. Positive thinking engenders hopefulness, optimism and resilience, which are very important traits for navigating lifes challenges and opportunities. Its not always easy to see things in a positive light or to build your world view around constructive thoughts, but it is always worth the effort.
Far from being simply a soft, touchy-feely outlook on life, there is a real discipline to thinking in a positive manner. Figure out what that is for you and work on it. The subject of thinking positive is worth a special note. Sometimes people face legitimate emotional obstacles that block their ability to see life in a positive light. Make sure you are in touch with where you are on this issue and refer back to Principle #10 if necessary.
Principle #13 Lean On Your Faith
Your faith will mean the most to you when you hit your first real personal crisis. You may even drift from your faith practice until you need something more than the non-secular world has to offer in the way of personal peace and fulfillment. But it will be there for you when you need it, and its always okay to go back. Your faith will always welcome you home.
The first place I went when life hit me with a two-by-four between the eyes was St. Ritas. I had been absent for a long while, but nothing comforted me like the quiet of that sanctuary and the prayers I offered up in silence. If you develop your faith and give yourself to it with purpose you will find strength there when you need it most.
Principle #14 Dont Compromise Your Principles
Whether you adopt some of these principles as your own, add to them, or create an entirely new set, be sure to live by them. Youll feel better and live a more fulfilled life if you can identify whats important to you, develop some thinking around how you want your life to be, and then live by it. If you are constantly compromising your principles, youll feel a nagging sense of incongruitylike you are arguing with yourself! It feels really good when you understand what you stand for and then live by those standards. People respect you and, most importantly, you respect and feel good about yourself.
Live | Love | Laugh